(Produced ca. 1983, revised 2013 & 2014, all rights reserved)
“Ja wohl, Zandra! Now we listen to the greatest of the Beethoven string quartets, the Opus 130, mit die Grosse Fuge, Opus 133.”
Werner, her last boyfriend in college, was standing by the turntable in his apartment, a record in his hand. Sandy, now a senior, waited expectantly. When he was in this evangelistic mood she knew she was going to hear something special.
“We hear your excellent Juilliard Quartet. Please notice how warm the playing, how powerful, how articulate. So!”
She smiled. He had a charming habit of referring to American orchestras and ensembles as “hers,” which made her feel complimented in a foolishly vicarious way.
Werner Edelstein was a musician, from West Germany, come to study for his Master’s degree in violin and composition at the conservatory attached to the university. They had met in late September when his quartet was hired to play at the opening of a special exhibit of Beaux Arts renderings mounted in the Architecture school gallery. She’d gone to hear him play a couple of times after that, he had invited her out for coffee, and things had fallen into place between them.
She settled into the crook of his arm as they reclined on one of the big beanbag chairs in his cramped living room. It wasn’t the most comfortable way to listen to great music, or to do anything else. The beans poking through the vinyl bore into the backs of her legs, and somewhere inside some of them had begun to rot. Their odor tinged the air with a morbid sweetness that made her vaguely queasy.
But Werner seemed to have gotten used to it, or he never noticed it at all. He had a mind above such things as good furniture. To see where his limited stipend went one need look only at the component stereo system taking up half of one wall and the shelves full of LPs, tapes, and musical scores standing on either side of it. Other than the beanbags and a few oversized pillows, he and his roommate Andreas, a cellist from Austria, had no need of chairs or couches. As for tables, the tops of the four large speakers sitting in the four corners of the room sufficed very well. At the moment they supported eight candles (all lit), one small vase of wilting daisies, two ashtrays (one clean, one full), a half-eaten package of Doritos (taco flavored), two Indian brass incense burners emitting the fragrance of sandalwood, and an incongruous bronze figurine of a laughing Buddha. The miniature alabaster busts of Beethoven and Mozart took pride of place on a wall shelf above the large reel-to-reel tape deck, and the wine glasses (his and hers, half-empty) stood by the beanbag, on the floor.
Sandy did her best to follow the intricacies of the Great Fugue. She knew it would take her three or four hearings before she could begin even to have the least familiarity with it, but Werner was a patient and able teacher.
Even now he jumped up, saying, “Entschuldige mich, Zandra!” He lifted the tone arm to pause the recording where it was, seized his violin, and played again for her the passage they had just heard. “Es geht— it goes– like that. You hear it?”
She did hear it. “Vielen dank, Werner,” she responded. “Thank you very much.”
She really had cause to be grateful to Werner. From him she was learning about classical music much more than she had gained from choir in high school or church. It wasn’t simply these hours at his apartment; whenever he could get her away from the exigencies of the fourth year of her Architecture course he would take her to concerts where he made sure she understood and enjoyed the music. Often, he would introduce her to the musicians, many of whom were his friends. When they’d gather at his apartment, he’d invite her, too, and the level of the conversation filled her with a satisfaction she hadn’t known for years.
He talked to her of philosophy, too. She had dipped her toes into the subject in her high school Introduction to Philosophy class, but he took her so much deeper she was inclined to despise what she’d been so proud of before. His tastes in the subject reflected his taste in music: he favored the thought of the 19th century German Idealist school, and he loved to hold forth on the relation between the Ideal and the Real and how– or whether– man could tell the difference between them. The philosophers who had followed them, he had more than hinted, had deviated from the true path.
“It was natural I should like that in him . . . We both shared a love of the Old . . . though, funny, the Modern architects are the ones I like best . . . ”
Werner’s favorite philosopher was the German Lutheran theologian Friedrich Schleiermacher. As far as she could follow it, Schleiermacher taught that every individual was an embodiment of Universal Reason, which seemed to be identified with God, and every person in him or herself summed up the whole glorious reality that was humanity and the human spirit. She felt more than understood the wonder of it; it gave her a sense of being part of something more expansive, more exciting than anything she had conceived of before.
“Wir alles haben– we all have that divine spark in us, der Götterfunken. Because we are all made in God’s image, nichts wahr?
“Oh, yes! I learned that in . . . ” She was about to say ‘Sunday School’ but was too embarrassed. She modified it to “ . . . in church. But I’d never thought of the image of God in us being like a divine spark, Werner. That’s beautiful!”
“Und der groß Gott– the Almighty– He is One and Undivided, this is true?”
“This is true,” she assented, eager to see where his reasoning would go.
“Ja wohl. So, since this One and Undivided Gott is in us all, we all are One. All humanity is one!”
“Yes, Werner? Go on!”
“So all good, all evil, we do to anyone, we do it to all humanity, and to Gott!”
“So if I hurt someone, it hurts all of humanity?”
“Ja! Und wenn you do etwas good to anyone, all of humanity is helped!”
“I like that. It makes me feel strong, somehow. Like I can do some real good in the world.”
It all seemed to match what she was being taught at University Presbyterian. Werner himself was a German Lutheran, by upbringing, at least. Enough of a Christian that Sandy felt she was no longer violating her pledge not to get involved with men who weren’t.
She admired and liked him immensely. Moreover, he was attractive, in a lean, loose-jointed, long-haired kind of way. “He reminded me of those old portraits of Paganini and Lizst.” Or of a blue heron in flight, especially when he took up his violin and played. But she had been seeing him steadily for two or three months already and she still couldn’t say she loved him.
She felt guilty about it sometimes. She was getting the pleasure of his company, not to mention a first class musical education for free, and what could she give him in return?
Lying with his arm around her on the beanbag listening to Stravinski or Schubert, or sitting on a cushion watching him pace about the little room expounding on Schopenhauer or Hegel, she felt she should love him. But she didn’t. She longed, she long had longed, for the time when she could stand before a man in full confident vulnerability and say “I love you.” But she could not. She believed (“Heaven help me, when I was twenty-one I still believed this!”) that if the love should come it would be right and fitting for her to give her whole self to him, without interference or intervention by church, state, or legal witnesses. But without the love, again, she would not.
They had actually discussed this, Werner and she, earlier in their relationship. Not that she had confessed how she felt– or didn’t feel– about him. But about not going to bed with him– yet. He seemed to understand. “Tchaikovsky, the 1812,” he said in analogy. “We do not get the cannon, the big guns all at once. We start slow, we build toward the climax, so! Ich verstehen.” But he never seemed to doubt that at the right time that climactic moment would certainly come.